2 Samuel 11:26- 12:13a

   Print this page

2 Samuel 11:26- 12:13a

Background to the Book of 2 Samuel

Historical:The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the beginning of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty-five chapters are given to these three people and forty-seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who were settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had achieved the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools that gave them superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine.

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Second, we follow the narrative as it tells of the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath.

David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel we read of the rise and fall of David's reign. There was quite a protracted war between Saul's son Ishbaal and David. The outcome was triggered by Ishbaal's stupid accusation against Abner and the consequence was that all the tribes of Israel accepted David as King at Hebron. 2 Samuel continues with the narrative of David's consolidation of power and the unification of the tribes into what became a very powerful kingdom. David's reign and extension of the territory to include many of the surrounding countries is the only time in history in which Israel occupies such a large area until the 20th century Six Day War. David defeats the Philistines soundly after he has taken Jerusalem and this removes them as a serious threat to the Davidic Empire. 2 Samuel continues with the story of David's deeds both good and bad.

After David realised he was living in a more luxurious place than that of the sacred Ark he told Nathan, the prophet, he wanted to build a temple in which to house it. Nathan agreed initially, but after God spoke to Nathan he came back to David and told him that he would beget an eternal line of kings and his "house" and kingdom would be forever. His progeny would build the temple.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom:


c.1020 - 1004 BCE


1004 - 965 BCE


965-928 BCE

Context of 2 Sam 11:26 - 12:13a

David has defeated the armies of all the surrounding countries (2 Sam 8) and the empire is at its greatest zenith until the time of the Six Day War in the 20th century. 2 Sam 9 depicts David showing great kindness to the son of Jonathon who had been saved by his nurse. He is treated as his own and given many privileges around the court.

We have to wonder why Hanun, the new king of Ammon believed the stories by his own princes that David was out to deceive him when the evidence was to the contrary (2 Sam 10). The insult by the King of the Ammonites brought David into battle against the Ammonites who called on the Arameans to help them. The consequence was the defeat of Arameans and the Ammonites flight to fight another day. This story of the continuing fight with the Ammonites is interrupted by the account in our lectionary reading of Bathsheba and David. The actions of David recounted in this reading are in direct contradiction to his kindness displayed in 2 Sam 9 in which he gives life and comfort to Jonathon's crippled son. In 2 Sam 11:1-15 David sets up a man whom he wants dead in order that he can legitimately take his wife. This is followed in detail about his plans, which are indeed successful in the collaboration with his Army General. The prophet comes into the story for this lectionary reading when David is confronted and very cleverly tricked into admitting his guilt.

When the child which had been conceived in 2 Sam 11:5 became very ill we read of David fasting and pleading with God until the child dies on the seventh day at which point he got up. David washed, changed, worshipped in the house of the Lord (wonder what that refers to), ate, and answered the servant's queries about his behaviour before going to see his dead son and consoling Bathsheba. The consequence of that consolation is the birth of Solomon, whom Nathan said had to be named Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord) as decreed by the Lord. Then we move back to the war with the Ammonites, which encloses the story of David and Bathsheba and gave the circumstances in which Uriah could be removed from the scene. Joab, the army commander of David has the city at the point of surrender and he appears to threaten David to come in person with the people and take the city "or I myself will take the city, and it will be called by my name" (2 Sam 12:28). David responses to this threat and the Ammonites are defeated soundly and become vassals of David.

Insights/Message of 2 Sam 11:26 - 12:13a

Literary structure: As mentioned in last week's readings, 2 Sam 11-12 needs to be read as one story enclosed by the narrative of the war with the Ammonites in 2 Sam 11:1 and 2 Sam 12: 26-31. Furthermore, it has connections to what follows in that it explains the troubles which are centred around David's family and are seen as a consequence to the sin that David committed in 2 Sam 11.

From the devious behaviour of David in 2 Sam 11:6-25 we move in vv.26 and 27 to the appropriate behaviour of a bereaved wife and future husband. A sense of hypocrisy pervades the verses in light of what went on before. We do not know if Bathsheba was genuinely sorry about the death of Uriah. Indeed, we are rarely told anything at all about the feelings of Bathsheba in contrast to the overt expression of feelings by David at the illness and eventual death of his son (2 Sam 12:15b-19). Again these verses are devoid of feeling and of action: David sent, brought, and came into his wife who bore a son. We note the Hebrew word used and translated as "brought/ gathered" which is different from that used in 2 Sam 11:4 when the messengers were sent to "grasp" her. It is much softer and more appropriate to the story that follows.

The section can be divided into:

2 Sam 11:27b-12:7a = parable:
12:7b-12 = confrontation and punishment:
12:13a = David's repentance:
12:13b-14 = another punishment defined.
The Lord enters the story at this point in 27b because what David has done displeased him. It contradicts David's confident statement to Joab in v.25 because the consequences of his actions are certainly going to trouble him in the years ahead.

At this point, the action is interrupted with the story of Nathan's confrontation with David. Nathan tells a story to which David reacts and is immediately told by Nathan, "You are that man." After this declaration Nathan, speaking on behalf of God in the 1st person singular, gives a summary of God's acts on behalf of David - I anointed, I rescued, I gave. David immediately repents and Nathan tells him he won't die, which is odd because this hasn't been named as the punishment, instead we have a new punishment introduced, that is, the death of the impending son.

The parable has no overt connection except by virtue of its context in 2 Sam 11-12 in which it becomes quite obvious that David is the rich and greedy man depriving the poor one of what he owns. Furthermore, it is because the rich man has power and authority that he can act is such a manner. The same Hebrew word is used in both instances when David "takes/grasps" Bathsheba (11:4) and the rich man "takes/grasps" the poor man's ewe (12:4).

The sin for which David is condemned is that of getting Uriah killed and then taking his wife, not the sin of adultery. Twice in verses 9-10 this sin is named explicitly. These verses and David's behaviour begin to demonstrate that the prophetic words of Samuel in relation to why kings are not a good move for Israel begins to come true here.

What David did secretly in grasping Bathsheba his son Absalom will do publicly for all to see (2 Sam 16:20-22).

There are three terse statements by the main players in 2 Sam 11-12. The initial statement by Bathsheba, "I am pregnant", sets off the train of events. Nathan's "you are the man" result at the end of the story with David's "I have sinned against the Lord".

Message / Theology. Nathan with his very clever story, which completely draws David in to condemn himself, quickly confronts David in his complacency. It was very courageous to say the words "you are the man". Nathan could have suffered by this direct challenge. After David is reminded what God has done, the punishment is spelt out. It is only after the initial punishments are stated that David acknowledges his sin. At this nice theological point the Revised Common Lectionary stops the reading before we hit the very difficult issue of the sin of the father visited onto the child.

Before we talk about the message for our age, the theology present here is supportive of the voices, including that of Samuel, who decried the need for a king. What had been prophesied in relation to kings and the way they would bring disaster is beginning to come true. David has abused his power for personal reasons and if he hadn't been confronted there seems no doubt he would have carried on as if nothing had happened. It is a turning point in his reign because from here on is the downward run. The punishment spelt out in vv.10-12 becomes a reality in the following chapters.

We suggested in an earlier section that one of the major reasons for this theological history which runs from Deuteronomy to the end 2 Kings was to demonstrate to the exiles that it that it was the consequence of the people's sin in seeking a king in opposition to the voice of the prophet, Samuel. David's sin, which was to plot the death of an innocent man, is the turning point in the fortunes of David especially in relation to his own family.

This section affirms once more the role of the prophet in the affairs of the king. The prophets of the Old Testament are part of the politics and the religious scene. There is no separation such as we have in our day which some people promote. They hear the word of God and believe it is their responsibility to challenge kings or any others who are in need of correction. The prophets and their role are constantly affirmed in this literature. Time and again we find that what they have prophesied in earlier chapters comes true later. As stated in Deuteronomy 18 you know a true prophet by virtue of his words coming true.

What does it say to us? There are consequences for wrong behaviour and deliberately setting out to hurt people. Unlike the Old Testament worldview of punishment we have to take into account the life and compassion of Jesus Christ. He believed people should repent but there was no punishing the offspring for the parent's sins. There are many people I have come across today who in the midst of a personal tragedy will believe it is their fault because they have done something wrong. In our understanding of God through an incarnate Christ I do not accept the Old Testament view of punishment. We do suffer and we are meant to repent and make reparation to those whom we have sinned against, but God does not punish family and friends deliberately. There may be consequences of our behaviour which spill over and hurt our close friends and family, but this is a direct consequence of what we have done not a deliberate act by a vindictive God.

There are major pastoral concerns because this Old Testament view is still current in society and is incompatible with my experience of God. This could be a major part of any sermon. How do people deal with the consequences of their own behaviour but not see personal disasters such as a death of a child as the result of some wrongdoing they did as a young person. Immediately one says that and I think of syphilis and the child did suffer because of the sins of a parent.

This passage does raise the question of who are the prophets in our society who confront and challenge the leaders when their behaviour is not compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: John 6:24-35, - this reading continues on the theme of bread with more references which allude to the Old Testament, especially from the exodus period of wandering in the wilderness. See notes from previous week re verse 31. The linking by John to the exodus account ensures that the Passover motif will remain in theri minds as they come to the last supper: that Jesus is a prophet like Moses and the expectation that as God provided in the wilderness so God will provide again. Indeed, the words in verse 32 emphasise that God is the one who provides even although it is suggested in the Old Testament that Moses was the provider. John builds up the story to the high point in verse 35 inwhich Jesus annoinces he is the fulfilment of the Old Testament messianic expectaiton. Ephesians 4:1-16, - what appears as a direct quote from Ps 68:18 has differences from both the Masoretic text and the Greek text suggesting it could have become part of an oral tradition. The focus is the gifts given by God to the church which is emphasised by Paul's use of the verb "give" rather than "receive". The giving of the gifts for the unity and working of the church are tied also to Christ's defeat of the cosmic powers. It is a fulfilment of the eschatology in Ps 68.

Resources/Worship for 2 Sam 11:26 - 12:13a

Worship: If it was possible to find a modern parable that people could identify with and somehow feel the effect of such a challenge.  Thing about what story would people be caught up into that might challenge a particular attitude, or !!

The Dramatised Reading Bible would also help present this reading quite well.


After the sermon, depending on what you want as a possible response the Psalm 51:1-12 makes a very good prayer of confession and petition

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: http://nat.uca.org.au/TD/worship/Orders_of_Service/index.html


Add Text